As far back as 2 years ago there was a buzz around the league about the 2023 draft class. Fast forward to today, still 8 months from the draft in Nashville, and the top 10 prospects seem to be coming into focus.
We all know the big name:
#1 Connor Bedard: He is as creative as a scorer as we've seen in a long time. He is playing in the WHL for Regina (not a great team) and is putting up all-time great stats as a 17 year old (46 points in 21 games). He is on pace for almost a 150 point season. That. Is. Ridiculous.
Bedard is of below average size and did seem to get frustrated in the World Juniors against more mature bodied defenders at times. I believe the biggest question mark Bedard has is actually if he is a center or a wing at the next level. He makes up for this with his elite vision, hands, and creative scoring angles. This is a franchise level offensive talent. On that note I'd love to throw out a current player comparable, but honestly I don't see one. He is some sort of combination of Patrick Kane, Sebastian Aho, and Kirill Kaprizov.
After Bedard there is only a slight drop off with 3 players:
#2 C Adam Fantilli: He already looks the part of a #1 two way center from day 1 next season. Big, strong, vision, high compete level, scoring angles, and leadership. Fantilli is scoring at almost 2pts a game as a freshman in college. Deja vu time.... This. Is. Ridiculous. He had a comparable of Jack Eichel (pretty good) heading into the season and now most scouts would agree that is selling him short. Fantilli is a threat to surpass Bedard for the top selection. That's how good he is.
#3 RW Matvei Michkov: It's easy to want to drop him in the rankings right now, but why? Maybe because he is a winger, maybe because he is smaller (5'10), or maybe because he has 3 more seasons in the KHL? My response to all this..... So what! This is an elite prospect. Hands, scoring, wrister, edges in close, and compete are all franchise player level right now. He is in the MHL, a pure defensive league, and he had 12 pts (8g) in 8 games. He is now back in the KHL and by the time he is done at age 21-22 will come into the NHL as a primetime star.
#4 C Leo Carlsson: My opinion is that if Carlsson was in the 2022 draft he likely would have gone 1st. Alexander Barkov level two way center. Smart, disciplined, stready, high skill level, and true competitor are some of the things I see in him already. The 17 year old has 13 points in 18 games in the SHL against veterans and ex-NHL players. That production is not common. Carlsson to me is a lock to be selected 3rd-5th.
#5 RW Zach Benson: You want an exciting player on your team? Then Benson is your pick. He has center traits, but his puck and scoring skill will make him a RW at the next level. Benson is the best player on a team full of 1st round talent and past selections. I see him as a true right dot high scoring wing that will ignite the fan base of the team that selects him. Pair him with a responsible two way center and you could have a combo that can lead a franchise for a decade.
#6 C Dalibor Dvorsky: Size, strength, and a strong hockey sense, Dvorsky projects as a legit top 2 center in the NHL. Currently at a 1/2 pt a game pace in the AIK as a 17 year old, Dalibor already has a mature frame. Dvorsky has elite hands for his age and shows a very responsible two way game as a good sized center. Reliabilty is maybe his best skill, each game I know what I'm going to see with him. He is offensively skilled and dependable on defense. This is a very safe pick for a team in the 6-10th pick range.
#7 C Will Smith: If you search, please put in Will Smith hockey... something I'm sure he's dealt with for years now. As a prospect there is a ton to like with Smith, his production at the USHL / USDP levels have all been consistent to show a high scoring player. The future Boston College Eagle is a playmaker in every scenario I've seen him in. He quickly makes decisions and is always creating excellent chances for himself and his wings. This is an exciting prospect, one that has vaulted himself into my top 10 of late. At the same stage, Smith reminds me of when Mason McTavish started to climb the boards.
#8 RW Eduard Sale (Sal-A): I put in the pronunciation as I've heard many hockey media members say the american "Sale" just the way I heard them call Laine "Lane" at the same stage. Eduard is a Czechia winger with great puck skill and a fantastic early shot repertoire. Sale came onto the scene with a fantastic U20 year and just is getting his foot into the Czechia main league. His main skill right now is his shot. Eduard has an extremly accurate shot for his age and he releases his wrister and one-timers with tremendous force. This is a future PP1 RW.
#9 C Brayden Yager: In the past, I've had Yager much higher (4th-5th). I've spent alot of time watching Moose Jaw (WHL) recently (loaded with talent). He is definitely producing points (23pts in 20 games), however I'm not sold he will ever be a true #1 center. I feel he is destined for that role as a great #2C like a Phillip Danault. Sean Monahan and Dylan Cozens come to mind when seeing where he may be in terms of potential. Yager is a dependable two way center that has clearly been coached really well. I think any team that drafts him will get a prospect with an extremely high floor.
#10 RW Riley Heidt: If you like offense, this is your pick. Heidt is on the high scoring Cougars in the WHL. Decision making in the neautral zone to quickly move the play forward is most likely his best skill right now. Riley has 10 goals and 22 assists in just 20 games for Prince George, which is way above last years pace. Riley is fast, with fantastic movement in close, and always seems to make the high IQ read. I've watched a ton of games for PG now and I have to say.... He is fun to watch. I think he is a future top 6 winger and should come in and produce right away in the NHL due to his elite work ethic. I've seen him listed mid to late 1st on other sites. For me, I could argue you he go as high as 8 or 9 in this draft.
11-20 in no particular order (all considered for spots in my top 10):
RW Colby Barlow, RW Otto Stenberg, C Calum Ritchie, C Oliver Moore, RW Gabe Perreault, LW Daniil But, D Mikhail Gulyayev, LW Matthew Wood, G Michael Hrabal, and C Sam Honzek
Players in the mix for 1st round selection (mid to late 1st):
C Quentin Musty, RW Ethan Gauthier, D Cam Allen, LW Andrew Cristall, C Noah Dower-Nilsson, RW Kasper Halttunen, RW Charlie Stramel, C Ryan Leonard, D Axel Sandin-Pellikka, and C Nate Danielson
There are truly another 15-20 players that you can consider here for the 1st round, that's how outstanding this year's class is. 2015 produced some amazing players: McDavid, Eichel, Marner, Werenski, Meier, Rantanen, Barzal, Connor, Chabot, Erikson Ek, Boeser, Aho, and Kaprizov. I think this draft could mirror that outstanding class.
The Blackhawks currently have their own 1st as well as Tampa Bay's 1st (top 10 protected). That is a great start, however I expect Davidson to add at least another top 50 selection before the trade deadline. I will update this list as the major junior / college / and european seasons play on.